Several airlines including Aer Lingus could bid for public service routes linking Dublin with Donegal and Kerry that were halted when Stobart Air folded at the weekend.
Aer Lingus Regional franchise operator Stobart Air ceased trading after its owner, British group Esken, ended financial support for the Irish airline late last week.
The Government will seek bids within days from airlines interested in providing State-subsidised public service routes, linking Dublin with Donegal and Kerry airports, that Stobart flew alongside the Aer Lingus service.
Several airlines have told the Department of Transport they are interested in flying the routes, although officials did not name any likely bidders.
Aer Lingus has confirmed that it is “ready” to fly the Dublin-Kerry route, subject to securing an appropriate public service obligation deal with the Government.
The airline says it is also exploring ways of operating the service between the capital and Donegal.
It is understood that another Irish carrier, ASL, is likely to look at the tender for the routes when it is issued, before deciding if it will bid.
Swords, Co Dublin-based ASL’s European business is heavily focused on cargo, which has been growing strongly since the pandemic struck last year.
The company is known to be interested in providing passenger services, but may still opt to concentrate on its cargo business in the short term.
Stobart received €3 million a year from the State for operating the services. Department of Transport figures show that 16,908 people travelled on the Dublin-Kerry route last year while 14,649 flew on the Donegal service.
However, that 31,557 total was about one-third of the 95,735 passengers who used the public service flights in 2019, the year before Covid-19 hit air travel.
According to the department, 58,021 people flew between Dublin and Kerry in 2019 while 37,714 travelled on the Donegal service.
The department is launching an emergency procurement process to recruit airlines to fly the routes, and says it will seek quotes from carriers in coming days.
Officials expect to complete the process in July, allowing the successful bidder to restore the services soon after. The contract will run for a maximum of seven months.
The deal with Stobart was due to end in December, so the department is also set to launch a separate process to recruit an airline to provide the services from the beginning of next year.
The High Court this week appointed Ken Fennell and Mark Degnan of Deloitte Ireland as provisional liquidators to Stobart Air.
About 480 people have lost their jobs as a consequence of the airline going out of business after 15 months of pandemic travel restrictions slashed its passenger numbers by more than 90 per cent.
Esken had been financing Stobart Air, but withdrew this after efforts to sell the carrier to an Isle of Man company, Ettyl, failed when that business was unable to raise cash to fund the deal.